Debts

“The way I see it, you owe me your life.  I could have easily had you executed for stealing from me.  Instead Appius took your place.  And since he died before revealing who his cohorts are and you have already seen the one, you are still in my debt until I release you from it.  Therefore, you are being conscripted as a spy for me.  You bring me any information you find on the Empire, I’ll pay you what it’s worth.  If I send for you and your services, you will respond.”

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Ulfric had finally stopped stalking angrily around his study.  It had taken a few bottles of mead mixed with Colovian Brandy to do so.  Meliandra would never admit to it but she had been tempted more than once to cast a calming spell upon the jarl but knew the magic wary Nord would probably not be very accepting of her actions, good intentions or not.  He had raged at the loss of his prisoner; he had raged at the fact that there was still at least one person in his confidence that was betraying him.  He cursed at his misfortune to have the answers right there in his hand only to have them slip through his fingers, leaving him back at square one.

Meliandra watched the jarl with interest as his voice boomed off the grey stone walls, paying keen attention to the rise and fall of his words.  She began to understand how he had gained the support he had as his personal rant played upon one keeping their word and remaining loyal to what was right and true.  As she listened to him, she began to see him from a different point of view.  So, when he changed the subject from Appius’s suicide to her, she found that she was a little more willing to speak to him a bit more freely than she had been before.

The jarl looked at the Breton, a slight smile hiding behind his lips. “Tell me, something, Meliandra.”  He sat forward in the chair he sat in to the right of her, a bottle of mead in his hand as he rested his arms on his knees.  “How the fuck did you get into my armory?”

She sat back and chuckled.  “Magic, sir.”  She paused a moment as she let the statement sink into the Nord before she continued, “My mother was a gifted alchemist and enchanter.  She had taught me from a very young age on how to mix potions and enchant items.  After she died, I had to do whatever I could to survive, whether it was permittable by law or not.  To avoid being caught, I honed my magic skills and became quite adept at what I could do.  I picked up some jobs along the way and eventually fell in with the Thieves Guild and I have remained with them; they’ve been rather good to me.”

The jarl nodded in understanding.  “You know, your skills would be beneficial to the cause here.”

She looked at him, her eyebrow arching as a smirk came to her face.  “The cause?” she repeated with a chuckle.  “You mean your war, right?”

“My war?” he questioned as he sat up straight in his chair.  “This is our war, the peoples of Skyrim’s war.”  He paused before continuing, “Unless your loyalties lie with the Empire?”

Her eyes turned cold as she spat her next words out. “The Empire holds nothing for me as long as they’re the Thalmor’s whore.”  She glared at him for a moment.  “Fuck the Thalmor.”  She took a long pull off her own bottle of mead she held within her hand.

Ulfric noted the contempt in her voice and smiled.  “Then join the fight, Meliandra,” he prodded.

She shook her head.  “Sir, I have to refuse.  The Thieves Guild has remained neutral and continues to be so.   My loyalties lay with the Guild.  I’m sorry.”

“Is there any way I can persuade you to join?”  he asked, smiling broadly at her.

Smiling, she glanced down at her lap then back at him.  “Sir, I’m not a soldier.  I don’t follow rules.  I’d be of no use to you on the field.”

He nodded.  “Fine.”  He took a drink of his mead then looked at her again.  “If I can’t use you in the field as a soldier, I’ll use you in the field as an informant.”

“What?!” she stared at him incredulously, knowing she heard him correctly but not believing her own ears.  “You can’t possibly be serious.”

He smiled and nodded.  “Without a doubt.”  He set his drink down as he continued, his voice heavy with the weight of his decision.  “The way I see it, you owe me your life.  I could have easily had you executed for stealing from me.  Instead Appius took your place.  And since he died before revealing who his cohorts are and you have already seen the one, you are still in my debt until I release you from it.  Therefore, you are being conscripted as a spy for me.  You bring me any information you find on the Empire, I’ll pay you what it’s worth.  If I send for you and your services, you will respond.”

“And if I don’t?”

Ulfric’s smile grew large yet the glint in his eyes showed only malice as he answered, “Then you will cease to be an asset to me and will be eliminated.”

#

A murder had been committed in Riften.  The guards hadn’t been sure who they had seen running out of the orphanage.  Rumor had it that it was a member of the Thieves Guild.  Brynjolf heard these whispers but paid them no mind.  He knew the murder happened after Meliandra had left her room that night, that it happened after Vex had seen her leaving.  And while he knew it had been the Guild Master who had committed the murder, he did not know why it had happened.  He had not heard from her in the days that had passed, nor had anyone else in the Guild.

He recalled Karliah’s words at Irkngthand, that Meliandra had slipped into the darkness, and he began to see it as well.  He wondered what exactly it was that had sent her over the edge and more importantly, would he be able to bring her back from it?  Questions plagued his mind the more he thought about it, yet he could not tear his mind from those thoughts.

Vex watched Brynjolf torture himself and she hated herself for not being able to fix it.  After watching him drink himself into a stupor night after night, she made the decision that she would find some way to make things right, no matter what the cost.

#

She followed the blonde servant but barely listened to anything she was saying; she was raging inside at Ulfric and how he had taken advantage of how the situation had turned out.  And argue as she did, she finally had to consented to giving Ulfric what he wanted, her servitude to him.

When Galmar had come in to speak to the jarl, Ulfric had called for a servant then instructed her to bring Meliandra to a certain room.  He had then dismissed both the servant and Meliandra without so much as a glance.

She found herself resenting the man, the overinflated ego she sensed about him grated on her nerves.  He held power in his hands, but she also knew that his power was ebbing, the tides of war were overpowering him.  She knew he needed a miracle to win this war.

The servant opened a door and stepped aside.  “Your rooms, milady.”

“My rooms?” Confused, she walked in the room to see that there was a full-sized bed set upon a wooden frame, it’s size larger than what she would have expected.  It was furnished with merely the necessities, yet those necessities showed an elegance she would not expect for a guest’s room.  She noticed an open door just beyond the bed and went to inspect it, discovering it was a study, much like the one off Ulfric’s personal quarters.  There was even a private patio alongside the exterior wall.  She returned to the main room, seeking the servant’s answers to her bewildered state of mind.  “Are you sure this is where Ulfric wants me to stay?  In here?”

She nodded.  “Yes, milady.  I’m sure; Jarl Ulfric was very specific about it.”

“Why did he put me in here?” she wondered aloud.

The servant smiled slightly.  “He must appreciate you, milady.”

“Appreciate me?” She snorted.  “I’m strictly an asset to him.  I’m surprised he didn’t put me under guard.  And why do you keep calling me ‘milady’? I’m no noble.”

“An asset, milady?  I don’t think so,” the maid responded.  “He has only on rare occasions allowed anyone into these chambers.  For you to be put here, that’s a privilege and means that he sees you as someone much more than an asset.”

#

“What I’m saying is that something isn’t right about that girl,” Galmar said gruffly.

“There’s always something not right about anyone with you, old friend.”

“Yes, but this one is different, Ulfric.”  The aged general shook his head.  “Just the thought of her makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.”

The jarl chuckled.  “Usually that’s a good thing.”

“Thinking with your dick again?” Galmar countered.  At Ulfric’s raised eyebrow he continued, “You can’t tell me that you have not stared at her tits.”

A grin appeared on the ruler’s face.  “Stared?  No.  Noticed…, I’d have to be blind to not notice the endowment she has been graced with.”  He took a long pull off his drink.  “She does have a certain beauty about her, doesn’t she?”

“She does have an exotic look to her,” Galmar admitted.  “If I trusted her, I’d screw her.  But I don’t trust her and I don’t think you should either.”

“I shouldn’t trust her or I shouldn’t bed her?”

Galmar stared at the jarl.  “So you do want to fuck her.”

“Come now, Galmar,” he replied.  “I am a man.  I do have desires.”

“And that’s why you have your castle wenches.”

Ulfric shook his head.  “How many of the wenches have you bedded?  And how often?  How many of my inner circle have had those same women that have visited your bed?”  He shook his head again as he said, “No, a wench will not satisfy all of my desires.”

“They’ll satisfy enough of mine to make me happy.  Galmar took a drink and looked at his friend.  “But seriously, Ulfric, I wouldn’t trust that Breton thief with my life.”

#

The guard watched the stranger warming himself by the fire outside the palace.  He knew something about him was a miss yet the thought of approaching the tall Nord sent shivers down his spine.  He kept his distance from the shoeless man, the primal look in the stranger’s eyes creating a wide berth between the two in more ways than one.

He warily eyed the stranger as he finally ventured away from the warmth of the fire and into the shadows heading toward the docks.  He breathed a sigh of relief, finally losing the feeling of being stalked by a hunter.

The assassin stood just beyond the guard’s sight; he had toyed with the Windhelm guard long enough, the scent of his fear slowly elevating that brought a wolfish grin to the man.  He heard the slight sound of glass tapping glass, a sound that reaffirmed Astrid’s orders to have the Breton taken alive and unharmed.  While he wanted to show the Breton the error of her ways, he was bound to the promise he had made.

Babette had brewed a potion specifically for this job and had reassured him that he’d have no problem using it.  He simply needed to get the woman to inhale it’s fumes.  While they had not planned on the target being at the Palace of the Kings and this had changed his plan of action, he had quickly reformulated his plan.  He would bring this woman, this Meliandra Valeria, to Astrid.  He had sworn it.

Weighing Life and Death

The sun had broken the horizon eight hours into the journey to the snow eastern city of Windhelm. They had come across an abandoned wagon and had stolen a horse from Katla’s Farm outside of Solitude. Vorstag and Lydia had been taking turns driving the horse pulled wagon as Meliandra sat next to the bound Appius. Getting him out of Castle Dour had proven to be an adventure in itself; his room was mere steps from the main corridor, the same corridor that was traversed heavily by Legion officers making it impossible to sneak out that way. It took her only a short moment to devise a plan that got both her and the traitor out of the castle. Vorstag had questioned her while Lydia balked but neither one had a negative thing to say when the short Breton appeared at the window with the bound Nord slumped over her shoulder. They watched as the man fell as she tossed him easily over the side, the two of them holding an edge of an outstretched tent that they carried with them on their travels. They snuck out of the city undetected and after stealing the horse, headed toward Windhelm.

Appius had been jolted awake by a bump along the stone road. He looked at the Breton, an angry look sat on his face. “You’re not going to get away with this!”

Meliandra sighed as she fished an apple out of her sack. She rubbed the dirt off the fruit onto her tunic, then withdrew a dagger from its sheath on her waist. She glanced at the man as she cut the apple in half, then again quartering it. “What makes you think that I haven’t already?”

“Rikke will come looking for me!” he stated firmly.

Meliandra laughed. “I’m sure she will, once she gets her fill of Orc dick, that is.” She shoved a piece of apple into his mouth. “Eat; I won’t have it said that I starved you.” She took a bite of the apple and watched him watching her.

He finished the apple slice and glared at her. “Whatever Stormcloak is paying you, I’ll double it if you let me go.”

She snorted. “I’m not doing this for the gold.”

His eyes widened in confusion. “If you bring me to him, he will have me killed.”

She took a bite of the apple again, chewed it thoughtfully then looked at him. “Not my concern.”

“Do you have no compassion?” he cried out.

“Of course I do,” she answered. “Just none for you.”

“Just let me go! He’s going to kill me!”

She looked at him, her eyes narrowed. “If I let you go, then he’s going to kill me.” He began to speak again but she waved him off and said, emphasizing her words with a jab of her dagger towards him, “Look, I promised Ulfric I’d bring you back alive; I didn’t promise that you would have your damn tongue.”

Vorstag’s laugh echoed through Appius’s head for the rest of the journey back to the frozen city he had come to despise. He had feared an outcome such as this from the moment he had agreed to this and now seeing what his future held for him, he resigned himself to his dreaded fate.

#

The afternoon sun shone through the window of Ulfric’s study, bringing a touch of warmth to this blistery day. As a child he would have begged his father to let him play out in the snow, wanting nothing more than to engage in snowball fights with Galmar and Yrsarald. Things had been easy back then. As children they had little to worry about. Yet it seemed as if with the blink of an eye everything had changed in their world. His childhood forever changed when he was sent to live amongst the Greybeards, not seeing his homeland for over a decade and when he finally stepped foot in his beloved home, it was not as the carefree youth that he had once been, but rather a cold, hard, driven man with an intense loathing for the Mer.

He paced the length of his study, his thoughts on Meliandra and if she had been successful on extracting the traitor or if she, like all the others before her, had failed. He had received word that she had made it to Solitude and even made it into Castle Dour but he had heard nothing since. He had sensed something about her that was different and he believed that she would have been successful on this mission. He only hoped that his gut feeling was right.

He heard the sound of footfalls on the stone floors outside his chambers followed by a loud rapping against the solid wood door that he recognized as being his general. “Yes, Galmar?” he called out.

The gruff general opened the door and walked in, his face showing surprise. He approached the jarl; the closer the man got the more Ulfric could see the pleasure in the eyes of the man. “What is it, Galmar?”

“That Breton thief…,” he shook his head. “She’s back with Appius.”

Ulfric smiled broadly. “I knew she was the one to do it.” He picked up his cloak and headed for the door. “Where is she?”

“The war room. Appius is already down in the Bloodworks.”

Nodding, he continued walking, his smile growing broader still. “Good,” he said with a hint of prideful flourish. “I suppose I should go thank the thief.”

#

She paced the room. She wanted to take her leave of Ulfric and return to Riften. She wanted no more to do with this blasted cold and this jarl. She glanced at the map on the table and noted that the Stormcloak flags were far and few in between. She saw Ulfric only had the support of a few holds; it was evident that he was losing the war. She continued examining her surroundings, very aware that she was being intently watched by one of Ulfric’s guards standing in the corner of the room. Every so often she would pick something up, look at it closely while the guard’s hand would instinctively go for his sword, then she’d set it back down and smile at the guard.

Her heightened hearing picked up footfalls beyond the wood door; she turned as the gruff aged jarl walked through the door. His piercing blue eyes smiled at her; in that look she saw a smoldering fire, entrancing her with a fearful respect. He strode over to her, confident and sure. She found his imposing height both threatening and comforting as he stood before her.

“I knew you were the right person for the job,” he said. “Did you run into any problems?”

She shook her head. “Nothing I couldn’t handle, sir.”

He smiled as he withdrew her ebony dagger from the folds of his robe, once again examining the ornate details of the craftsmanship before handing it to her. “I’d say that you earned the return of your weapon then.”

She took her prized dagger in her hands, smiled and thanked him. She slipped the sheath into place on her hip, it’s familiar weight a reassurance to her; she looked the jarl in the eyes. “Does this mean that you trust me?”

He chuckled yet there was no mirth behind it. “Trust is earned, not given. But,” he paused, “you are on your way to being trusted.” He set his heavy hand gently upon her shoulder as he continued, “Walk with me.”

“Yes, sir.”

She followed as he exited the room, entering the large hall. Large banners hung from the wall, all proudly displaying the Stormcloak bear. A handful of nobles ate at the grand table, laden with roasted meats and jugs of Nord mead. She eyed each one, looking and wondering. Ulfric noticed this and questioned her. She shook her head and said softly so that only his ears would hear her. Even the smallest rabbits have big ears, my Lord.”

He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, his eyebrow raised and a curious look upon his face. “Very well.” They remained silent until they entered the passageways and then he turned to face her. “I admire your sense of confidential urgency so would you oblige me with an explanation of what all that was?”

“Before I apprehended Appius, I observed him speaking with someone about things here in Windhelm. Sir, he’s getting all of his information from someone who has access to the Palace.” She paused a moment before continuing. “And you.”

He searched her face intently, looking for signs of deception, and seeing none, asked, “Do you know who his contact is?”

She shook her head. “No, I’m sorry, sir. I did see her face somewhat and I am sure I would recognize her voice if I heard it.”

He nodded and began to walk again. “Then it seems as if I am still in need of you and your skills.”

She sighed and followed him to the Bloodworks.

#

He was cold in his cell. The frigid city in the north was experiencing a cold front making it colder than normal. Add to that the cells were drafty with no source of heat except for the sconces along the walls which put out hardly any heat. He looked at the hay pile and thought about his circumstances. There was little doubt in his mind about what fate lay before him; he only wondered how much time he had left before Ulfric passed his sentence.

Voices echoed off the stone walls; he recognized the deep voice of the jarl and became anxious. He quickly thought about the options he had before him and realized how few they were. A moment later Ulfric and the Breton entered the room.

“Appius, Appius,” Ulfric states as he spread his hands vastly before him. “Tell me these things I’ve been hearing are not true. I know that you would never sully your family’s good name the way rumor has it.” He stood before the gate to the cell, a slight smile playing tauntingly upon his lips. “Surely this is nothing, more than a big misunderstanding, right, Appius?”

He stared back at the jarl, confused.

Ulfric turned to the Breton and asked her to retrieve the key to the cell’; they waited for her to return. Appius swallowed nervously, knowing nothing good was going to come of this but not knowing what to do. A moment later, the ebony haired Breton returned to Ulfric’s side, key in hand. At his command, she unlocked the cell and stood aside. He swallowed nervously again as he watched Ulfric walk calmly into his cell. He knew Ulfric too well to think that the jarl truly believed in his innocence.

“My old, dear friend,” the rule said as he stood in front of him, “why don’t you tell me your side of the story and explain this situation – “

Suddenly Ulfric’s hand shot up and grabbed ahold of the traitor’s neck right below his jaw then slammed the man against the wall with a resounding crack, his eyes large with more fear than he had ever experienced in his life. A fire raged in the eyes of Ulfric Stormcloak and when he continued speaking, his voice was hard and thundering.

“ -before I rip your goddamn throat out?”

“My Lord,” he choked out.

“’My Lord’?” Ulfric repeated with a growl. “You dare call me your lord when you’ve been betraying me?!” His grip got tighter around Appius’ throat. “You worthless waste of skin! I have half a mind to throw you into River Yorgrim with boulders tied to you!”

“I know thing,” Appius managed to say.

Ulfric smiled, his eyes glinting. “Yes, you do. I want to know who your co-conspirators are.”

He shook his head in denial. “No one, sir. It was just me.”

Ulfric gripped his throat tighter as he snarled, “Do not lie to me, Appius! You were seen and heard conspiring with someone! Tell me what I want to know!”

With little air making its way to his lungs, he nodded what little he could. “Please, sir,” he rasped out, “release your hold on me and I’ll tell you everything.”

“Of course you will,” Ulfric responded as he released the man.

Appius fell to his knees and rested his hands in the hay beneath him. His eyes closed, the air burning their way through to his lungs as he asked for forgiveness in a quickly whispered prayer to the Divines.

He knew that the time had come.

#

Meliandra saw it a moment too late. She cried out as she saw Appius pulling the cork out of a vial. She quickly cast a paralyze spell that crashed into his chest, collapsing him to the ground. Ulfric spun around to see his prisoner start foaming at the mouth like a rabid wolf. For a moment, terror shone through Appius’s eyes before they went dull. Meliandra rushed into the cell and stood behind the jarl who was examining the small black vial clutched in the hand of the now deceased traitor. She pried the vial from the immobile fingers and gently sniffed it. “A fast-acting poison, sir,” she said. “He had nothing on him when I brought him down to the cell.”

Ulfric picked up the chair that sat in the corner of the cell and hurled it against the bars, his anger exploding just like the chair splintering into pieces.

The Stolen Contract

The cloaked figure made his way to his Mistress through the Sanctuary.  His angry glare kept his dark siblings away from him as he strode angrily by.  He found Astrid eating a meal with Festus and Arnbjorn.

“Brother,” Astrid said in greeting.

“We have a problem,” he stated flatly.

“And what is that?”

“Someone stole the Riften contract.”

Recoil

Ulfric sat at his desk in his quarters, lost in thought.  He knew he was taking a risk with the Breton thief.  He realized quickly that she was by far not the naïve victim he had assumed she was when he saw her at Helgen nearly a year ago.  Instead, he found her to be difficult, headstrong, overly self-confident, dangerous.  Yet at the same time he found her confidence intriguing, her stubbornness he saw as determination, and the danger that she possessed was alluring to him.  He sensed something about her that was raw and powerful, and he knew that she could be molded to do his bidding, but only if done right.  And he still had to establish if he could even trust the thief.

He sent a spy of his own to shadow her, to see if she would do his bidding of if she would tuck tail and run away, hoping to never cross the jarl’s path again.  The spy had orders to eliminate her if she failed to go to Castle Dour.  He had no time for people who could not keep their word, even less for thieves.  The Breton was lucky he had even given her the opportunity to redeem herself.  He honestly hoped that she would not throw that gift away.

#

“I love you, Meli.”

Hours later those four words echoed in her mind.

She had been drifting to sleep when Brynjolf’s words had made their way to her ears but had found herself suddenly wide awake.  She laid there frozen, stuck in the moment.  She had listened to him as he fell asleep, his rhythmic breathing accompanied by the occasional snore, his arm still draped across her waist.  His words circled around her mind continuously, as if they were caught in an emotional whirlpool.  A tear escaped her eyelid and spilled down her cheek as the conflicting emotions churned through her.

She finally got out of the bed, quietly dressed and slipped out the door without disturbing the sleeping Nord.  The Cistern was quiet save for the sounds of members sleeping as she made her way to the entrance.

She needed to think about things.  She had been ignoring all the feelings she had been experiencing except for the hurt and anger.  She didn’t want to acknowledge that the mere sight of Brynjolf made her heart skip a beat or that every time she was close to him she swooned at his voice.  She wanted to remember that he had betrayed her trust but her heart kept reminding her of how he had stolen her love.  And now to add to her turmoil, she was dealing with him successfully breaking down that wall she had erected around her as well as his admittance of love.  Her world was changing faster day by day and she could feel herself slipping further and further into her anger.

She stepped out into the graveyard, intent on spending some time in meditation in the Temple of Mara.  Instead she turned directly into the oncoming path of Vex.  They stared at each other a moment, neither one looking happy to see the other.  Meliandra moved to walk around her when Vex broke the silence.

“Running off, are we?”

Meliandra turned and faced her.  “Who says I’m running off?  Or is that just what you’re hoping that I’ll do?”

“My concern is Brynjolf,” Vex replied flatly.

“Of course it is, Vex.  That’s why you were a thorn in my side before and I completely believe you will always be a thorn in my side.  It doesn’t matter if I’m the Guild Master or not.  You do not like me.  You never have and never will.”

The blonde tilted her head to the side.  “I don’t know what Brynjolf sees in you, but he sees it,” she said crossly.  “And because he feels the way he does for you, I’ll just have to put my own feelings about you aside.”

“Your feelings about me?” Meliandra repeated.  She emphasized her words as she spoke harshly, “What about your feelings about Brynjolf?  Have you ever thought that maybe, just maybe, he doesn’t want to reciprocate your feelings?”

“I am very aware of what feelings he has for me and yes, I am very aware that they are not of the romantic kind in nature.  It’s obvious he has those kinds of feelings for you.”  She chuckled.  “After last night, I think the entire Guild sees who has his undivided attention.”

“And that must drive you mad with jealousy, doesn’t it, Vex?”

The older thief shook her head.  “You don’t have an inkling of a clue as to what my relationship with Brynjolf is and nothing you say or do will ever change that.”  She straightened her back and glared at her.  “Go ahead and run away, Meliandra.  And don’t try to tell me that you’re not because I can see it written all over your face.  Just next time you decide to announce to the entire Guild that you and Brynjolf are fucking, I’d advise you to not go sneaking off in the middle of the night leaving him to wake to find you missing in the morning.”

Then the blonde thief turned on her heel and walked past her, headed for the secret entrance to the Thieves Guild.

#

She bypassed the Temple and walked around Riften, her mood dark.  Vex’s words echoed in her ears, taunting her.  What irritated her the most was that she knew Vex was right.  She had not planned on returning to the bed that Brynjolf slept in now and there was a high probability that she was not going to be returning to the Cistern at all before she left for Solitude.  But now, now she knew that she couldn’t.  There was no way that she was going to allow Vex to be right about this.

She just needed to clear her head.

She made her way up the stairs from the lower level of the fishing town, emerging by the orphanage.  He thought about Aventus Aretino in Windhelm and what he had said about the old lady that ran the place.  She stood at the door for a moment, thinking about it.  She shook her head, thinking that the boy just didn’t want to be in an orphanage and turned to walk away.  Then her sensitive ears picked up a youthful sob coming from the fenced in yard.  She crept forward and upon finding a foothold, she scaled the wall and watched through the spiked railing.  In a darkened corner of the yard sat a young boy trying to treat what appeared to be bloody lacerations on his back.

After a few moments of watching the boy and reliving abuses she suffered at the hands of her own father, she made her way back down the wall and snuck into the orphanage, shutting the door quietly behind her.  She cast a muffle spell and made her way into the orphanage, past the children sleeping in their beds and into a room in the back.

She looked around the room in horror.  There were shackles attached to the walls.  There were bloodied belts and whips.  She clenched her hands into fists as she made her way into the other back room and saw the old woman asleep in bed.  Shutting the door softly, she slinked forward, every movement measured to avoid any sound.  She perched herself atop the edge of a chest at the foot of her bed.

The old woman must have been a light sleeper because her eyes opened and focused on the intruder above her.  “You’ve no business here.  Get out before I call for the guards!”  she spat out, her voice riddled with hate.

“I’m just here to deliver a message, old woman.”  She gave the elderly woman a taunting look as she paused.

“A message? From whom?” she asked suspiciously.

“From Aventus Aretino, of course.”

“Aretino?” she hissed.  “That little bastard!”  She wagged her finger at the Breton.  “You tell him I’m coming to get him!  And when I find him, it’ll be the beating of his miserable life!”

“You won’t be laying a finger on him.”

“I’m not scared of you, girl.”

Meliandra smiled icily as she said, “You ought to be.”  In the Breton’s hands appeared a pair of swords.  “Aventus wishes you a good journey to the Void.”  She then flipped the swords around, blades down and drove them deep and hard into the woman’s chest.  A scream ripped forth from the woman’s lips as she felt the coldness of the magic blades slam into her body.

“That… ungrateful… little… bastard…. “ She coughed then her head lolled to the side, her eyes unfocused and empty.

Suddenly she heard a scream behind her.  She spun around to see Constance Michel standing in the doorway, staring at the sight before her.  “It’s alright, you’re okay,” Meliandra tried to reassure her but the woman screamed again.

“Shit,” Meliandra grumbled, knowing that the screams were going to alert the guards outside.  She ran out of the room and towards the entrance to the orphanage but suddenly stopped short as a city guard turned the corner and came rushing at her with his sword drawn.  She dodged his blow as she ran for the door that led to the yard she had seen the boy crying in earlier, pushing her way through the door.  She scrambled her way up the aspen tree and launched herself over the wall only to find more guards rushing toward the orphanage.

“Fuck me,” she mumbled as she broke into a run and rushed through the city gate, leaving Riften behind her.

#

The Nord watched the Breton thief run out the city gate.  He held back for a moment before he made his own way out of the city.  Using the skills, he had learned as a young boy out hunting with his father, he tracked the thief.  He watched as she waited for some time by the standing stone outside the city.  After a while he saw her walk down to the road and flag down a passing traveling merchant; she handed him something then he headed toward town.  Sometime later the Breton’s two companions appeared on the road and walked directly to the standing stone.  After a few moments, the trio set out on the road.

The spy Ulfric sent out to watch the thief shadowed the group as they headed away from the Rift, eventually finding themselves on a path that would lead them to Solitude and Castle Dour.

#

Before his eyes opened, Brynjolf knew something was amiss.

It was quiet, too quiet for Meliandra to still be in the room with him.  He sat up and looked around, finding emptiness around him.  He rubbed the sleep from his eyes, then stretched widely, working the tightness out of his aging muscles.  As he dressed, he tried to not think the worst of finding Meliandra gone from the room.  He refused to allow the thought that she ran away after what had happened between them.  He wanted to believe that reconciliation was possible.

He made his way to the Flagon where he knew that Vekel would have an ample amount of Nordic coffee over the fire.  As he walked in he noticed a pause in conversations as members turned to look at him.  Recalling that Meliandra had been screaming out last night, he shrugged it off.  He sat down at the counter; Vekel placed a mug of hot Nordic coffee in front of him.  “What’s the word, Vekel?”

The bartender shook his head.  “Slow morning.  Sapphire headed up to the Bee & Barb a little while ago to hear the scuttlebutt around town.”

The Nord nodded, turned and scanned the room.

“She’s not here,” came Vex’s voice from his side.

He glanced to his right to see the blonde emerging from the shadows.  “Didn’t see you over there, Vex.  And… what are you talking about?”

She stood next to him.  “Meliandra.  I saw her leaving in the middle of the night.”

He nodded, solemnly.  “Do you know where she went?”

Vex shook her head.  “No, sorry.”  She hesitated then continued.  “Look, I know I’m to blame for this.  There’s got to be some way- “

“I don’t want to hear it, Vex,” he said flatly.  He looked at her, his eyes narrowed.  He ran his hand over his chin, frustrated.  “This time it’s on me.”  He set his mug down and walked out, thinking himself a fool for admitting his love to the Breton.

When Tempers Flare

Upon finding out about Meliandra’s arrest, Brynjolf plans to rescue her. Despite his joy at finding out she was released, both of their tempers flare and fireworks ensue.

Brynjolf reviewed the weeks reports of how much gold they had added to the coffers as well as how many job requests they had gotten in.  Slowly their presence was being felt again, but not enough.  The war was taking a toll on everyone, jobs were scarce and the need for their services weren’t as in much demand as the demand for mercenaries were.  He picked up the stack of messages from his operatives and began reading through them.  He was pleased to see that some of them who had stepped away from the Guild were now willing to work with them again; it seems that many of the operatives had been taken advantage of by Mercer and tried to distance themselves from him.

After some time, he sat back in the chair, his gaze resting on the bed that at one time Meliandra would sleep in.  His thoughts went to the last time she was here and how what had started out as steps forward in fixing their relationship ended up blowing up before his eyes.  He had obviously misread her jovial mood that day that had made him believe that she was ready to talk and when he went to apologize again in the morning he had discovered that she had left sometime during the night.

He was beginning to understand now more than ever what it meant to not know what you’ve got until its gone. The feelings he felt for her were so intense and her absence from his life created such a void the likes of which he had never experienced in his life before.  He thought of the conversation he had had with Vekel the other day and how the bartender smiled at him, a look of knowing touching his eyes as he shook his head telling the second in charge that he had fallen in love with the Breton.  He knew the man was right.  But had he lost his one opportunity to be truly happy?

He noticed the courier making his way from the Flagon entrance toward him.  He recognized the boy as one employed by Niranye in Windhelm to ferret sensitive messages to the Guild and immediately became concerned.  He sat up as the boy approached him; an icy finger of fear traced down his spine for a reason unknown to him.  “Gaelock,” he said as the young Altmer came closer.  “Everything alright?  We usually don’t see you around here.”

The boy shook his head as he reached into his satchel and pulled out the sealed message from his employer.  “Niranye says this is urgent and for your eyes only.”

Brynjolf’s eyebrow rose as he accepted the letter.  He opened it and began to read, sitting straighter in his chair as he did so.  He let the paper fall to the desk once he finished and ran his hand through his hair.  “Shor’s Balls,” he swore.  He reached into the jar to the side, took out some gold and handed it to the young man.  “Tell Niranye thank you.  And make sure some of that gets to her, too.”

Gaelock nodded and smiled, “Of course.”  Then he turned and headed back into the Flagon.

“Shit,” Brynjolf swore under his breath, his thoughts returning to the message from the Altmer thief.  Meliandra had been seen getting arrested by Windhelm guards led by the jarl’s right-hand man.  He had remembered Delvin saying that a job had come in for Windhelm to be hit.  He immediately knew that it was Meli who took the job.

The Guild’s policy was to leave a captured thief be when and if one got caught.  But he would be damned if he was going to leave the Guild Master locked up and he began to form a rescue plan using Cynric’s jailbreaking skills.

#

She took a deep breath as she stepped into the Bee & Barb, the familiar aroma of fish cooking in the kitchen with a hint of saltiness in the air wafting through her nostrils, eliciting a slight rumble of hunger from her stomach.  She approached the bar where the Argonian innkeeper was busy serving the Snow-Shod son.  She noticed that Sapphire wasn’t in her usual spot near the door, scouting for possible marks so she could lighten their pockets.  She stood at the bar and cleared her throat, bringing the woman’s attention to her.

“Oh,” the Argonian said sourly, “it’s you.  Here to extort more gold from me?”

Meliandra narrowed her eyes as she responded, “Don’t tempt me, Keevara.  The Guild’s under new rules, new management.  I’m sure the new Guild Master would be more than willing to add some new fees to your monthly contribution to the betterment of our fair city.”

The Argonian snorted.  “New management?  Who would be psychotic enough to want to be the boss of your motley crew of thieves?”

The Breton leaned onto the counter and smiled at her.  “Me.  Now, shall we continue?”

The inn-keeper swallowed nervously before shaking her head.  “I was just joking, Meliandra.  What can I do for you?”

The Guild Master set a stack of gold on the counter.  “A room with privacy and absolutely no disturbances.”

The Argonian slid the coins off the counter quickly, her claws slightly scratching the wood.  She nodded, saying, “Of course.  If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to your room.”

The trio followed her upstairs and into a room far off to the back.  Once they were alone amongst themselves, they began to settle in for the day.  Vorstag and Lydia were going to be going to the market and sell what junk they had while replenishing their supplies and have Balimund make any repairs needed to their armor and weapons.  In the meantime, Meliandra would be going down to handle business with the Thieves Guild.

The sun was beginning its descent past the horizon by the time Meliandra emerged from the inn.  She saw Modesi at his stall, just starting to close up shop for the night.  She walked over to him, delivering the chunk of gold ore he was looking for for an authentic Saxhleel piece of jewelry he was making.  After paying her generously for her help, she made her way to the Riften graveyard.  She absently noted the Shrine of Talos and thought about the stories of Tiber Septim she had read as a teen.  Once again, she remembered the feeling of the dragon soul coming over her, laying claim to her.  She could not fathom that she of all people could possibly be Dragonborn.  She shook her head as she opened the entrance to the Guild.

#

She entered the Cistern to see Delvin, Sapphire, Cynric, Vex and Brynjolf huddled around the desk, talking quietly amongst themselves.  She couldn’t make out what they were talking about but it seemed urgent.  The closer she got, the more visible Brynjolf’s face was and she could see concern written all over it.

Vex looked up and upon seeing her, smiled.  She nudged Brynjolf and pointed out the Guild Master to him.  His eyes went from irritated to surprise to happy as he got up from his chair and walked toward her.  He caught himself before drawing her into a hug.  “Meli,” he said, relief riding on his voice.  “We heard you’d been arrested.”

“I was,” she answered back.  She placed the stolen signet ring in front of Delvin.  “But I had a job to do.”

Delvin picked up the ring, letting out a whistle.  “Well, look at this little beauty,” he said in admiration.  “This is Ulfric’s?”

The Breton smirked.  “It is indeed.”  She shrugged nonchalantly.  “You said something that would make them know it was us.  I think that fits the bill.”

Delvin smiled broadly, chuckling.  “Good work, boss.  I’ll get you your coin by the end of the night.”

“No rush, Delvin.”  She took her seat and began to inquire as to the state of the Guild.  For the next couple hours, she listened to what her people reported to her and how the Guild was slowly regaining their foothold.  She listened intently and watched carefully at everyone’s interactions, how smoothly they all worked together.  Slowly, one by one, they left to retire for the night leaving only her and Brynjolf.

She stood, yawning.  “I need to get some sleep; it’s been a long couple of days.”

Brynjolf stood, nodding.  “I’ll walk with you to your room.”

She sighed but nodded back at him.  “Things seem to be looking up,” she said casually as they made their way out of the Cistern.

He nodded.  “Everyone saw the sacrifice that you made to expose Mercer.  They have a new outlook on their jobs.  You’ve made them strive to be better, lass.”

A sad laugh came from her.  “I hate to break it to you, Bryn, but I had ulterior motives for wanting to kill Mercer, let alone bring him down.”

He looked over at her; the whisper of sorrow in her voice shouted at him.  She walked into the room that the Guild had decided to make quarters strictly for the Guild Master and turned to face him.  “What I shared with Mercer was strictly a satisfaction of our mutual carnal desires, nothing more.” She sighed.  “I had no illusions about any kind of meaningful relationship with him.”  She shifted her eyes slightly away from him.  “The last time I thought I had one of those I ended up being hurt.”

Brynjolf felt the verbal slap and closed his eyes, knowing she meant him.  He opened his eyes again and looked at her, his eyes soft as he gazed at her.  “Lass, I’m sorry.  I really am.  I don’t know how I can make it up to you.”

She shook her head.  “You know, Bryn, right now I don’t even want to think about any of that, alright? I’ve got a lot more on my plate than dealing with you and I.”  She ran her hand through her ebony hair, sighing.  “I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t be taking it out on you.”

“Is there anything I can do to help you?  Or the Guild?”

She shook her head.  Her voice was flat as she answered, “No, I need to handle this myself, Bryn.”

“Meli, we can help you- “

“Damn it, Bryn!” she snapped.  “I don’t want nor need your damn help!  Why must you patronize me, acting like you care about me?”

“Acting like I care?” he snapped back.  “Are you fucking serious, Meliandra?”  He shook his head.  “Here I’ve been worried about you ever since I received word that you had been arrested, but no, I don’t fucking care about you!”

“Worried?”  she repeated sarcastically.  “That’s not what it looked like to me when I walked in.  In fact, you and Vex looked rather cozy sitting next to each other.  Hell, she even smiled at me, like she was gloating that she drove us apart.”

“Oh for fucks sake!” he cried out in exasperation.  “What in Oblivion do you fucking think we were doing when you walked in?  Having a tea party?” He stared at her, his anger quickly rising.  “Shor’s Balls, Meli.  We were planning on how to break you out of jail!”  He turned to walk out, stopped, turned and walked back to her.  His eyes burned hot with anger, the words, acid upon his tongue.  “Just how did you manage to get out of there with the jarl’s signet ring?  Wait, don’t tell me.”  His eyes narrowed as he spat his next words out.  “You fucked Ulfric for your freedom.”

Her eyes went wide, mirroring the anger that raged in his.  She brought her hand across his face, hard.  “How dare you!”  She raised her hand, posed to strike him again.

He caught her hand mere inches from his face. “How dare I?”  He snarled at her.  “You’re no better than a whore, Meliandra.  You’ll spread your legs for anyone if it benefits you.”

Her eyes narrowed.  “You didn’t seem to have a problem with that when you were fucking me,” she snapped as she pulled her hand out of his grip.  “What’s wrong, Bryn?  Vex not giving it up anymore?”

Suddenly, with no warning, he grabbed her and pulled her to him, crushing his lips with hers, his tongue forced its way into her mouth and demanded ownership of it.  His grip around her was strong, holding her in his arms firmly as he gave into the overwhelming need to feel her in his arms, to kiss her with abandon like he had once done.  Breaking the kiss, he breathed heavily, “I don’t want Vex.  I want you.”

“You lost that chance, Brynjolf.”  She noticed that her voice was not as strong and forceful as she had intended it to be, but rather it was weak as she tried to reclaim the breath that he had just taken from her.

“I don’t think I did, lass,” he said as he kissed her again.

She tried to pull back, her hands finding their way to his chest, pushing at him as his kiss consumed her.  She tried to fight, not him, but her own desire to give in to his very touch.  Despite herself she found that she was returning his kiss with as much fervor and determination that he was giving.  Her hands went from pushing on him to frantically loosening his tunic and running her fingers down his bare skin, leaving red marks where her nails pressed into him.  “You’re a lying cheat,” she breathed at one point, kissing him again as his fingers worked the ties free on her clothing and quickly removed them from her body.

“And you’re a slut,” be breathed against her skin, his lips tracing their way down her neck and onto her shoulder.

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”  She tilted her head back, her hands finding their way through his hair, guiding him to her now naked breasts.  She gasped in pleasure as he took her breast in his mouth, his tongue flicking across her nipple before he did the same to the other.

“You are a bad girl that does bad things, Meliandra.”  His voice grew heavy with lust as he lifted her into his arms and carried her to her bed.  He laid her upon it, then, keeping to his knees, he climbed upon the bed, staying at the foot of it.  He stared at her before him as he removed his pants, his erection hard and throbbing.  “Did you enjoy fucking the Battle-Born son?” he asked as he slipped two fingers into her and began playing with her.  “What about that barmaid?  Did you enjoy having a woman do this to you?”  His fingers thrust faster and harder in her; his excitement was building.

“Yes,” she panted, “I liked her fucking me.”

“What about the Battle-Born kid?”  he fingered her faster still; she was dripping wet now.  “Did you like fucking him?”

She looked at him.  “No,” she admitted.  “I didn’t.  I hated it.”  She moaned and writhed against his hand then looked back at him.  “Please fuck me, Brynjolf, just fuck me.”

He smiled as he withdrew his fingers and positioned himself above her.  He stared at her as he asked, “Fuck you?  You really want me to fuck you?”  She nodded emphatically.  He stared at her for a moment longer then leaned forward, resting the tip of his shaft against her slit.  “This is what you want?”

“Yes!” she cried out.  “Please!”

He gave a hard thrust, slamming his entire length into her, causing her to cry out.  His thrusts were frantic; she clawed at his chest, drawing blood.  He was losing his control; she was crying out her quickly impending orgasm.  He thrust again, harder; her juices flowed as if a dam had burst forth, sending her body into spasms as she climaxed.  Brynjolf felt the flooding from her pooling around him and soon his own body went rigid as his cum exploded into her womb, filing her with his seed.  He collapsed next to her; his breathing accelerated but starting to return to normal.

She laid beside him, his arm wrapped around her and she remembered how secure that had always made her.  She closed her eyes and let herself enjoy the moment.

Brynjolf held her, tracing her skin with his fingers.  He had not realized how much he missed the feel of her body against his, how they seemed to fit together perfectly.  He did not want this moment to end for in the here and now his world was perfect.  He had his Breton in his arms again.  That’s the only thing that mattered to him.

As he kissed the top of her head he whispered, “I love you, Meli.”

The Rat in The Cage

He sat at the table in the room they had him secreted away in. He had but few visitors and those were far and few in between.  He had been lured to the Legion with promises of fame and glory but so far all he had received was this room and isolation.  Secrets whispered in his ears via hidden messages delivered in coded letters gave him little solace as each day passed.  A promise of a visit was included in the latest of messages and this made him anxious with joyful hope.  Perhaps this visit will bring news that will see him a free man once more.

Manipulation

The doors opened, a gust of snow-filled wind blew into the corridor as the jarl walked through, his thick, black fur cloak billowing behind him.  His face, as always, was unreadable as he made his way to his rooms, paying little mind to those he passed along the way.  He had decided to take a walk to clear his mind and had made his way to the training yard and watched some of his men sparring for a while before making his way to the Temple of Talos where he had spent time contemplating the war.  Restlessness had set in and soon he had found himself walking the streets of his city until the wind turned harsh and he made his way back to the Palace.

His mind was weighed down with thoughts of the war, the sellswords he sent to Castle Dour to extract and extradite the traitor Appius that kept failing to successfully infiltrate the Legion’s Skyrim base, and now his thoughts included the thieving Breton, specifically, how did she manage to get into his personal armory.  He kept thinking that if she had been able to get that far into the Palace and into one of the most secured wings of the castle, perhaps she would be able to do what the sellswords had failed to do.

He walked into his quarters, removing his cloak as he did so and draping across the back of a chair, then proceeded to pour himself a goblet of mead before walking across the room to a window to gaze out across his city.  A dusting of snow rested upon the tops of the stone walls and some of the rooftops, smoke puffed out of chimneys while ice wolves howled in the distance beyond the city walls.  He took a drink off his goblet, the mead warming his chilled body as his thoughts went to the days of his early youth when all was carefree and he ran throughout this city playing with his friends.  His world had completely changed when he was barely six winters old when he was sent to study with the Greybeards at High Hrothgar.  He had left a boy and returned as an orphaned young man, his heart cold and hard by his experiences.

A knock at his door drew his attention; the hour was late but he had been expecting this knock.  He set the goblet down then went and opened the door, revealing a young guard, a slight look of fear in his young eyes.  Ulfric tried to remember the boy’s name but it kept eluding him.  “Can I help you?” he asked the young man.

“Sir.” The guard saluted then continued.  “Ralof is asking to speak with you.  He says that you will know what it’s about?”

He nodded.  “Is he alone?”

The guard shook his head.  “No, sir.  There is a woman with him.”

“A Breton?”

He nodded.  “Yes, sir.”

The jarl smiled.  “Very good.  I’ll speak to them in my study.”

“Yes, sir,” the guard answered as he saluted again before turning to leave.

Ulfric left the door ajar as he went into his study off the side of his bedroom and waited.  It wasn’t long before Ralof and Meliandra entered the room.  He glanced at the Breton, noting the way she held herself, confident but cautious, before turning his attention to his officer.  His strong voice rumbling in the room as he spoke, demanding their full attention.  “I trust this means there is cooperation?”

“Yes, Jarl Ulfric,” Ralof answered, looking back at his companion, a slight smile on his lips.  “Meliandra has agreed to speak with you.”

Ulfric gave her his full attention.  “Good.  I have a lot of questions; there might be a… offer of sorts as well, one that you should give serious thought to when giving me an answer.  Is that understood?”

“Understood,” she responded, a slight smile on her own face.

He saw the glint in her eye; it made him slightly uneasy.  Looking back at Ralof, he dismissed the man then waited until he was alone with the thief.  He walked to his desk, pulled the chair out and sat down.  Indicating the chair opposite to his desk, he stated flatly, “Have a seat.”

He watched as she walked to the chair, trying to read her.  She looked at him as she sat down, her amber eyes meeting his, the glint still there as she smiled at him, like a cat toying with her prey.  But he was no prey.  He gestured to the jug of mead on his desk.  “Care for a drink?” He didn’t wait for a response, rather he reached for a tankard and picking up the jug, began pouring her one.  “Did you enjoy your breath of freedom tonight?” he asked smiling.

“It was a lot more enjoyable than having to deal with that miserable excuse for a former guard in the cell next to me.  It could have been better if you’d have just let me go.”  She accepted the offered libation and took a drink, staring at the jarl all the while.

“I’m sure you understand why that’s impossible.”  He poured himself a tankard as well, returning her gaze as he did so.  “You see, I don’t know if you’re working for one of my enemies, perhaps inadvertently or maybe knowingly.  Either way, you managed to do something no one has ever done before and I want to know how you did so and who are you working for?”

She held the tankard by the rim, a long, graceful finger tracing the edge as she sat back, the look in her eyes boring into his.  “You have nothing to fear, Jarl Ulfric.  I am not working for anyone but myself.”

While he heard the note of truthfulness to her voice, her suddenly darkened yes caused him concern.  This time it was him whose eyes bore down on hers as he sat forward and crossed his arms in front of him as he rested them on his desk before him.  The smile on his face was not warm as he said, “I don’t believe you.  I can always return you to that jail cell until you decide to tell me the truth.”

A sneer flashed on her face for a moment, then she sighed heavily and drank more of her mead before answering him.  Her voice took on an edge, one of authority as she said, “Fine.  I work with the Thieves Guild.  I was given a task to make sure our presence here in your Hold was known.  Against the advice of my superiors, I decided that stealing something for you would be enough of a message that the Guild is still very much alive and well.”

His eyebrows arched again, this time higher.  “The Thieves Guild?”  He leaned in further.  “Am I to believe that this is just some random theft and not some covert operation on the part of Tullius and the Empire?” He shook his head, a false laughter coming from his lips as he looked at her again, more sternly then before.  “I find that hard to believe, Meliandra.”

Her eyes blazed hotly as she snapped.  “Tullius?!” She slammed the tankard onto his desk.  “There’s not enough gold in all of Skyrim that could ever convince me to do any kind of job for that piece of shit or the Empire!”

He smiled as he sat back in his chair.  “Care to prove it to me?”

Her eyes narrowed as she stared at him, studying him.  “What?”

“I asked you if you would like to prove to me that you do not work for the Empire?” He steepled his fingers before him, his smile still lingering on his lips as he said in measured breaths, “It’s very simple, Meliandra.  You prove to me that you are not an agent of the Empire and I’ll permit you to continue to live.”

She took a deep breath.  “And how do you propose that I prove that?”

“I want you to go to Castle Dour in Solitude.  You will bring me back the double-crossing turncoat Appius Fridthjof.  Simple as that.”

#

She opened the door and walked into the rented room to find Vorstag snoring on his bed roll while Lydia sat at the table in their room.  Lydia’s head turned quickly to see who was entering their room.  “My Thane!” the housecarl cried out, stirring their companion on the floor.

“Lydia, stop with that damn thane title shit, would you?”  She nudged the sleeping man on the floor with her foot.  “Wake up, Vorstag.  We’ve got to head out of here and soon.”

“Mel?” he answered groggily.  “What’s going on?”

“I’m in between a rock and a hard place, that’s what’s going on.  Now get up and let’s get out of here.”  She began collecting her belongings as she told them about her conversation with Ulfric and the ultimatum he had issued her, explaining to them that in order for her to leave Windhelm alive was to agree to do a job for the jarl.

“So he’s blackmailing you?” Vorstag snapped.

“Look,” she said, “I do this job, he lets me walk out of here.”

“He wants you to sneak into Castle Dour and extract an Imperial spy!”  Lydia cried out.  “It’s a suicide mission!  I cannot let you do this!”

Meliandra spun on her heel and advanced on her housecarl.  “I don’t need your permission to do anything.  This is the only way to prove that I am not a spy.  His own spies will be watching for me and will be reporting back to him.  If I do not do this, I will be hunted down and executed.”

The room was silent save for the sound of Meliandra’s packing as her statement settled in before her companions began to quickly pack their belongings.  A few minutes later they exited the room and headed out of the inn.  They walked in silence as they made their way to the city gates.

A cold breeze greeted them as they descended the steps to the bridge that spanned across the water that separated the old city from the mainland.  Meliandra pulled her fur cloak closer to her body and looked away as the snowflakes landed on her cheeks.  She saw the carriage waiting beyond the stables and indicated to her companions they’d be taking it.  She told them to get in the back as she headed to the carriage driver.

“Where ya headed?” he asked.

“Passage to Riften with extra coin if you pick no one else.”

He nodded.  “Hop in back.”

As the carriage set out, Vorstag looked at her, questioningly.  “Riften?  Why not immediately to Solitude?”

She smiled.  “Because despite being caught, I still finished what I was sent to do.  The guards might have recovered the items I stole from the armory, but I was still able to get out of the palace with this.”  She opened a bag to reveal a large signet ring embossed with the crest of Ulfric Stormcloak.